Assessing Food Security and Dietary Intake in the Post Welfare Reform Era in Two Southern States

Year: 2001

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Monroe, Pamela A., Carol O’Neil, Vicky R. Tiller, Jennifer Smith, Janet G.H. Marsh, and Stacey Willocks

Institution: Louisiana State University

Project Contact:
Pamela A. Monroe, Professor
Louisiana State University
School of Human Ecology
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Phone: 225-578-1731


The authors examined the consequences of welfare reform legislation in two Southern States, Louisiana and South Carolina, by observing food security outcomes for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), former TANF families, low-income non-TANF families, and local communities. The authors conducted interviews with approximately 130 former welfare recipients and working poor women in Louisiana and South Carolina from late fall 2000 through late summer 2001.

Most women (72 percent) in the Louisiana sample received food stamps; none received TANF benefits. Monthly food stamp benefits averaged $299.43, with a range from $16 to $594. More than half (56 percent) of the women in the study reported that their actual food costs exceeded their monthly food stamp benefits; the monthly shortfall averaged $112.50. In South Carolina, the average monthly food stamp benefit reported by the 34 women participating in the program was $280, and the monthly benefit ranged from $10 to $455. Fifteen of the 34 women using food stamps reported that they spent no money for food beyond their food stamp benefits. Among those spending money for food beyond their food stamp allotment, the average amount spent was $52 each month.

In Louisiana, almost one-third of the women in the survey lived in households classified as food insecure and a fifth lived in households classified as food insecure with hunger. In South Carolina, 58 percent of participants lived in food-insecure households and 25 percent lived in households classified as food insecure with hunger.

Twenty-four-hour diet recalls were collected from 74 of the women in the original sample. Dietary recall data were collected at the start of a household’s resource cycle, when the respondent received her food stamps or other source of income, and at the end of the resource cycle. The analysis shows a positive correlation between overweight and food insecurity in women, possibly as a result of monthly resource cycling. Women on food stamps often skipped meals at the end of the resource cycle. Diet quality, measured relative to the Federal Food Guide Pyramid recommendations, was similar for both groups: low in nutritional quality, high in fats, and generally deteriorated over the resource cycle. The diets lacked fruits and vegetables, variety, and key nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. When asked to give an example of a “balanced meal,” neither group could adequately define a balanced diet. Both groups were overweight, with poor diet quality a likely contributor to overweight status.